Published January 2005

It’s been a tough winter for would-be ice fishermen.  A little ice at first, then rain, thawing, cold again, heavy snow, and freezing rain, all of which has contributed to treacherous ice on many lakes.  But there simply have to be some cold days this winter and eventually the good 4-5 inch clear ice that we’re waiting for will arrive.

When that happens, it’s time to get out the ice auger, short rods, and your collection of tiny jigging spoons, Ratfinkees, Toadies, Demons, and waxworms, or jigging Rapalas, Swedish Pimples, and minnows, and go looking for a good catch of prime eating fish.  You should find some too, given basic knowledge, because ice fishing is the years most productive way of taking either panfish or gamesters.

Farm ponds are a no brainer during the early season.  You find deep water, lower some jigs and waxworms, and jig slowly just off the bottom, moving occasionally until you find a concentration.  It’s in the larger lakes like Charles Mill and Pleasant Hill or further south at hotspots like Buckeye that the men and women get separated from the boys and girls.  Because these big waters can be tough to fish.

 One basic fact to keep in mind is that panfish like weeds and other bottom cover.  Those summer weed beds have died down by now, but still offer some fronds and maybe even a bit of greenery.  Those weeds are a mecca for aquatic insects and small fish, and likewise a mecca for those seeking food.  So, if you’re seeking bluegill, look for fairly shallow weeds and if after crappie, try a little deeper and hold to the edges of weed beds.

Perch?  They favor deeper water yet and rocky bottoms, especially submerged reef areas if they can find them, and walleye and saugeye like much the same.  If you’re not too serious about ice fishing on bigger waters, just head for a handy lake and look for concentrations of fishermen.  They’re there for a reason.  Then walk out, see who’s doing what, and decide to bore your own holes or leave.

A much smarter move is to invest in an inexpensive little portable fish finder that will last you for years, and travel around looking for submerged weed beds,  woody cover, and blips around either  that indicate submerged fish.  Often, you can bore a shallow little hole, if the ice is clear, add some water, and place the locator’s business end in the hole to see the bottom.  Doing this will allow you to cover lots of ground, and hopefully find a hotspot.

When you do find a place worth trying, and you bore a couple of holes for fishing, keep in mind that the grating crunch of your auger is going to drive every fish below away, especially if the water is fairly shallow.  But within 10-15 minutes they should return and you’ll start catching some.  If nothing happens in 30 minutes, go elsewhere.

Remember too, that your bait has to move.  Standing around watching a float with your hands in your pockets will produce little, but a rod in each hand that you jig gently up and down then pause can produce excellent catches.  And don’t be afraid to change colors and types, because all fish from saugeye to bluegills and perch can be picky on certain days.  If white doesn’t worth, switch to chartreuse or yellow, and if Ratfinkees aren’t the answer, try spoons or Popees.

It’s a simple formula.  Use a fish locator if possible, move until you find fish, and keep switching offerings until they start hitting.  You’ll find that bucket will fill in a hurry.

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